Petter Reinholdtsen

Handling non-free firmware in Debian Edu/Squeeze
27th January 2012

With some computer hardware, one need non-free firmware blobs. This is the sad fact of todays computers. In the next version of Debian Edu / Skolelinux based on Squeeze, we provide several scripts and modifications to make firmware blobs easier to handle. The common use case I run into is a laptop with a wireless network card requiring non-free firmware to work, but there are other use cases as well.

First and foremost, Debian Edu provide ISO images for DVD and CD with all firmware packages in the Debian sections main and non-free included, to ensure debian-installer find and can install all of them during installation. This take care firmware for network devices used by the installer when installing from from local media. But for example multimedia devices are not activated in the installer and are not taken care of by this.

For non-network devices, we provide the script /usr/share/debian-edu-config/tools/auto-addfirmware which search through the dmesg output for drivers requesting extra firmware. The firmware file name is looked up in the Contents-ARCH.gz file available in the package repository, and the packages providing the requested firmware file(s) is installed. I have proposed to do something similar in debian-installer (BTS report #655507), to allow PXE installs of Debian to handle firmware installation better. Run the script as root from the command line to fetch and install the needed firmware packages.

Debian Edu provide PXE installation of Debian out of the box, and because some machines need firmware to get their network cards working, the installation initrd some times need extra firmware included to be able to install at all. To fill the PXE installation initrd with extra firmware, the /usr/share/debian-edu-config/tools/pxe-addfirmware script is provided. Again, just run it as root on the command line to fill the PXE initrd with firmware packages.

Last, some LTSP clients might also need firmware to get their network cards working. For this, /usr/share/debian-edu-config/tools/ltsp-addfirmware is provided to update the LTSP initrd with firmware blobs. It is used the same way as the other firmware related tools.

At the moment, we do not run any of these during installation. We do not know if this is acceptable for the local administrator to use non-free software, and it is their choice.

We plan to release beta3 this weekend. You might want to give it a try.

Tags: debian edu, english.

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